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College Talk Blog

Caviar College Dreams on a Shoestring Budget

Parents who would not go to a Tesla dealer and say they want a Tesla for free think nothing of saying something similar when it comes to colleges. The bottom line about colleges is that nothing is free. Whenever you hear about a student who got a "Free Ride" to a college, there was a huge payment beforehand. That student and family had huge sweat equity and likely significant costs getting the student to the point that they could earn a "free ride" to college later.

The next time you hear about a free ride, realize it came after 12 or more years of hard work by the student and at least as many years work on the part of the parent mentoring the student and paying for enrichment experiences through their own sweat equity and time.

I use Tesla as the brand example for a car because it is one of the more expensive and prestigious. Prestige is the other thing about families expecting free college in the world in which we operate now. The same family who expects to find free college turns up their noses when I suggest some colleges for which their son or daughter could expect at least significant scholarship money and a possibility of full tuition. They reject those colleges because:
  • location is farther from home or objectionable for some other reason
  • the prestige factor is less than desirable for their expectations
  • the campus architecture is not pleasing to them
  • they know some "stupid" kids who got into that school (no kidding-I have heard this more than once)

The best strategy to save the most money on college costs is to foster sweat equity on the part of the student all through school and to support that student with summer experiences and facilitate after school and weekend program participation. It is also important for both parents and students to keep an open mind about college and think about college like other large purchases. 

When it comes to college, the bargains are the colleges that provide the best program at the most reasonable price along with generous merit scholarships. Those colleges may sometimes be well-known and prestigious but can also be less well-known but nonetheless high quality. Sometimes, a student may have to travel farther from home for a bargain...or it may be where the student lives. Flexibility, an open mind and freedom from the burden of feeling prestige is related to a high quality education is key to a less expensive outcome. 

Some of the happiest and most well-adjusted college outcomes I have seen have been in families where parents have explained the college cost budget to their kids just like they would for any other purchase. Those students know that a $75,000 per year college is out of reach without a HUGE scholarship offer. Those students are also more willing to do the work it takes to apply for scholarships to reduce college costs.

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